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Ealy v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 29, 2019

RANDY EALY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          DEBORAH BARNES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This social security action was submitted to the court without oral argument for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.[2]Plaintiff's motion argues that the Administrative Law Judge's treatment of the medical opinion evidence, subjective testimony, and step five conclusion were erroneous.

         For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion is granted, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) is reversed, and the matter is remanded for the payment of benefits.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In March of 2015, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), alleging disability beginning on January 27, 2015. (Transcript (“Tr.”) at 20, 216-19.) Plaintiff's alleged impairments included encephalitis, anxiety, memory impairment, seizure disorder, and traumatic brain injury. (Id. at 233.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially, (id. at 146-50), and upon reconsideration. (Id. at 153-57.)

         Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on May 16, 2017. (Id. at 37-63.) Plaintiff was represented by an attorney and testified at the administrative hearing. (Id. at 37-39.) In a decision issued on July 28, 2017, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 31.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2016.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of January 27, 2015 through his date last insured of June 30, 2016 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.). (Exhibits B3D; B4D)
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: seizure disorder; history of herpes encephalitis and associated traumatic brain injury; degenerative disc disease of the cervical and thoracic spine; gout; depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with the following limitations: The claimant can occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can stand and/or walk for six hours of an 8-hour workday and sit for six hours of an 8-hour workday, with normal breaks. He cannot climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. The claimant can perform simple, routine tasks. He can tolerate limited interaction with others and limited public contact.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born [in] 1968 and was 47 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Through the dated (sic) last insured, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from January 27, 2015, the alleged onset date, through June 30, 2016, the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).

(Id. at 22-31.)

         On February 26, 2018, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's July 28, 2017 decision. (Id. at 2-4.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on May 1, 2018. (ECF. No. 1.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “The district court reviews the Commissioner's final decision for substantial evidence, and the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1158-59 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997).

         “[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a ‘specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). If, however, “the record considered as a whole can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the Commissioner's decision, we must affirm.” McCartey v. Massanari, 298 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 2002).

         A five-step evaluation process is used to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). The five-step process has been summarized as follows:

Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.
Step two: Does the claimant have a “severe” impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, then a finding of not disabled is appropriate.
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is automatically determined disabled. If not, proceed to step four.
Step four: Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.
Step five: Does the claimant have the residual functional capacity to perform any other work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.

Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The claimant bears the burden of proof in the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987). The Commissioner bears the burden if the sequential evaluation process proceeds to step five. Id.; Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).

         A ...


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